Perch are good eating. Many anglers would sooner sell their children into slavery than kill a fish; bet they've never tasted fillets of perch with pineapple salsa or baked in a black bean sauce. Better than any farmed salmon or trout, I'd say.
The Government thought so during the Second World War. They netted millions of 4in perch from Windermere in the Lake District, canned them in tomato sauce, called them perchines and told the public they were a substitute for sardines. Wartime Britons were desperate for protein, but it turned out that they weren't that desperate.
They might have gone down better in Denmark, which boasts what is surely the world's best perch lake. We watched locals come down, catch a few for lunch or supper and disappear, all in the space of 30 minutes. These weren't perchines either, but big, bold stripeys weighing 1lb or more.
Goodness knows how many the three of us caught. Must have been hundreds. We'd taken a break from sea-trout fishing because Michael, our host, had told us about this lake that held perch of 5lb and larger. And we tried all ways to catch a whopper: fly, spinner, bait. It didn't seem to matter. We caught them close to 2lb, but superperch eluded us.
Then, later that afternoon, a lad of eight or nine came down with a 5ft kiddie rod and pike float. His bait was ragworm (a sea bait) impaled on a giant hook. How we smirked - until a truly massive perch, way over 4lb, grabbed his crude set-up. He hauled it out of the water and headed off home with it for supper. We gave up.
I've never caught a king perch. I netted one for my friend David Solomon at Sonning, and I lost a huge one on the Ouse. Could have been 4lb. But my biggest stands doggedly at 1lb 14oz.
Look at a map of Lincolnshire and you'll have no trouble finding Toft Newton reservoir. It is perfectly round, as if someone has taken a protractor and drawn a lake with it. It is like that in real life too, though curiously, locals talk about the corners being good spots to fish. Every one seems to have landed perch of 3lb, 4lb.
By rights, they shouldn't be there. This is exclusive trout land, and a good bargain at £12 a day for two fish. However, perch have somehow slipped in and grown fat. Baby fish hide under the decking, thinking it's safe. Big mistake. They're trapped, and the big perch know it. Predators need only swim along with their mouths open.
Last year I missed out. Turned up too late. This year, I'm here at prime time. First cast, I catch a perch that might nudge 2lb, but I'm too lazy to weigh it. I'm after the five-pounder taken last year. Bet it's near 6lb now.
Unfortunately, a lot can happen in a year. Where once a few very big perch swam, now dozens of smaller ones have joined them. Every cast a perch, some hardly bigger than the fly. Every time I think, "This is the one!", it's a trout instead. Here I am, after big perch, and pestered by big trout instead.
And as the light fades, I think that maybe I should have weighed that first perch. My biggest is still 1lb 14oz.
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